Outdoor Play Is the Answer to the Blue Light Blues

“No more pencils, no more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks!” You can almost feel the excitement of summer vacation, can’t you? Kids have been counting the days until testing and exams are over and school is out. Just for fun, let’s have you take a one-question quiz about how most American children want to spend their summer:

This summer, I can’t wait to:
a) ride my bike with my friends
b) play hide-and-go-seek in my backyard
c) climb trees in the neighborhood park
d) play my iPad all day

You chose “d,” didn’t you? The other answers are a much better way to spend the summer, but they almost seem laughable. Being outside all day and playing with friends used to define summers for children, but now our kids spend almost all ten weeks of summer indoors using electronics.

To get an idea of just how much time kids spend on digital devices like video games, computers, tablets, and smartphones, consider this statistic: the average 13-year old owns three digital devices and spends 70 hours a week looking at a screen. Four years later, that child has spent 50,000 passive, sedentary hours using some type of electronic (Source: The Columbian Blogs).

Besides contributing to attention problems and obesity, overuse of digital devices is causing eye strain. Electronics emit high energy light, commonly known as blue light, that our eyes perceive as glare. Overexposure to blue light can lead to conditions such as eye strain, blurred vision, dry eye, refractive errors, headaches, and neck and back pain. Because children get so drawn into games and apps, they may not notice these symptoms. However, it is important to monitor their use of electronics by creating boundaries and guidelines.

Here are some ideas to keep your kids off the couch and protect their vision:

  • Establish mandatory outdoor play time. Buy some new sports equipment for the summer like footballs, basketballs, tennis rackets, jump ropes, non-motorized scooters, and bikes. Always enforce the helmet rule when using any equipment with wheels.
  • Choose one day of the week for “Outdoor Family Fun.” Have the kids help choose the activities. Maybe they will choose kickball at the park, family bike riding or walking the trails at a state park.
  • Limit your own use of electronics. Adults overuse digital devices just as much as children. Try to keep your evenings free of electronics as much as possible. Delegate a specific amount of screen time for certain days or just on weekends.
  • When using electronics, remember the 20-20-20 Rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This helps eyes rest and prevents eye fatigue.
  • Keep current with comprehensive eye exams. Taking your family to have regular eye examinations will help keep eyes healthy and vision clear.